La. higher ed leaders ask for more money to address $1.5 billion backlog of issues

Higher ed officials in La. ask lawmakers for money to address $1.5 billion in backlog of projects

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Higher education leaders Monday, Feb. 10 requested more money from state lawmakers that would help chip away at the $1.5 billion backlog of repairs on state campuses, offer faculty pay raises, and help cover rising employee retirement and insurance costs.

Louisiana colleges and universities are a combined $1.5 billion behind on repairs around campus. After a decade of cuts to higher education, some schools had to divert maintenance dollars to cover basic services.

“I look up and see a little wet spot and think, ‘That’s going to be okay.’ In a year, that’s going to be a much bigger wet spot. There’s going to be mildew down the wall and it costs me a whole lot more in a year to fix than if I fix it today," LSU interim president Thomas Galligan said.

Deferred maintenance at LSU's Baton Rouge campus carries a $700 million price tag, and deferred maintenance at Southern's Baton Rouge campus would cost around $76 million to complete.

The Louisiana Board of Regents has already requested lawmakers appropriate $150 million from the roughly $500 million left over from last year's budget to chip away at ten percent of the deferred maintenance problem.

In addition, system presidents each requested additional money that could be used to offer faculty higher salaries. Southern president Ray Belton said his faculty received one, 3 percent raise this decade.

“That has caused havoc in our ability to retain and recruit faculty," he said. "Simple as that.”

In addition, presidents noted that obligatory costs - like employee retirement and insurance benefits - are rising. Most Louisiana schools spend more on this sort of expense than they receive each year from the state.

That means new investments in buildings or faculty salaries must come from self-generated revenue, like donations or student fees.

“At least for the short term, we’ve virtually exhausted what we can put on the backs of students," UL System president Jim Henderson said. "We have to find time for them to catch up to this new reality as we’ve doubled tuition in the last ten years to offset the reductions in state funding.”

The first version of the governor's budget will include some extra money for colleges, though that debate will begin in earnest during the legislative session that begins in March.

Galligan also asked lawmakers to consider fronting cash for a new library at the flagship Baton Rouge campus. In addition, Galligan told the Senate Education Committee that LSU wants the authority to raise or lower its fees.

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